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JSU head coach Omar Johnson


Click here to watch Omar Johnson’s interview with ESPN

Jackson State head baseball coach Omar Johnson clarified comments on Sunday made during the Lafayette Regional that initially sparked controversy after it was perceived he was ungrateful the team received equipment days after the school’s bus caught fire while on a road trip last month.

In a taped interview with ESPN, Johnson, the eighth-year head coach, was asked about donations the team received from apparel companies and other universities, including Mississippi State, who donated a truck load of baseball gear.

“We couldn’t use any of it. It’s a different color,” Johnson said to ESPN anchor Hakem Dermish. “But we appreciate everyone trying to help us out.”

Mississippi State is a team clad in maroon. Jackson State on the other hand is outfitted in blue. Hence, the inability for JSU to use any of the equipment. If only the Tigers were Alabama A&M or Texas Southern — SWAC schools that share similar colors to Mississippi State — it would not have been an issue.

Social media then erupted with backlash like a thousand over hand rights and butterfly kicks from Solange over Johnson’s comments.

The reaction prompted both Jackson State and Johnson to issue statements on the matter.

“I had an interview with ESPN. I think some of the things I said got taken out of context. We are so grateful to everyone who’s helped us out. We’re extremely grateful. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, the University of Virginia, Dick’s Sporting Goods, our Tiger Fund, our President of our university, our athletic director, everyone came together to try to help us to get these kids, our student athletes back to a point that things seemed normal.

Someone edited an interview I did yesterday with ESPN and made it come across as being really negative. We appreciate everything. We’re fortunate that no one got hurt on the bus. It’s strange how people put spin on things now. I don’t want to take anything away from our team and our student-athletes were able to accomplish. It’s unfortunate that the interview was twisted like that. We’re very grateful for everyone that had any part in helping us. It was a tough time. These guys are going to move on. It’s unbelievable the resolve they showed to come back and perform the way that they had the past three weeks.

I will say that again to make sure that it’s not twisted. We are very grateful for everything that everyone’s done. I said that in the interview yesterday. But whoever the guy was who interviewed me failed to put that in the interview. But that’s how it goes. I understand the twist that goes with things. But I’m happy for our team. I respect all our opponents in the tournament. It’s been an outstanding experience.

Some believed Johnson came off quite cold and callous during the interview with ESPN.  He seemed a little agitated while answering questions.  Not a good look to those who don’t know him or only saw a snippets of the nationally televised interview.

In Johnson’s defense, having played for and coached alongside him for five years while at JSU, he doesn’t sugarcoat much. He says what he means even if it doesn’t project well or isn’t aesthetically pleasing to some.

As I watched the interview, it is easy to decipher just by Johnson’s facial expressions and mannerisms (many I saw a thousand times before as a player and assistant) that he had become tired of having to talk about the bus fire, and how it supposedly galvanized the team to capture the SWAC championship and upset No. 1 national seed Louisiana-Lafayette Friday.

For Johnson, it’s all about the work put in on the practice field, in the batting cage, and during bullpen sessions that ultimately dictate the outcome of baseball games rather than some other circumstances attributed to whatever successes or failures the team experiences.

The laces on your glove snap. Get another glove and make a play. It’s a rain delay. Well, when Mother Nature gets done watering the Earth, and that tarp is pulled off the field refocus on the task at hand. The team’s coach bus explodes in fire on the side of an Alabama highway. Thank God nobody was killed or maimed. But let that not be an excuse to perform poorly. That is the mindset of Johnson. No wiggle room for excuses to explain lack of productivity due to adversity or credit given to adversity in which was overcame. That’s nothing to apologize for.


  1. I have had the pleasure of watching Coach Johnson manage his team in two SWAC Basbeall tournaments over the last four years. I have seen jackson State play seven games. This was in an official capacity as the “Official Photographer” for the SWAC, so I am on the field, in the dugout, and by the coaches on the first and third baselines.
    I see and hear eveyrthing that goes on during a nine inning game. There are a number of SWAC baseball coaches who do more yelling and screaming than coaching. This is their style.
    I have found Coach Johnson to be a class act period. He is calm, smart, strategic, and accomodating to the media. He has always been easy for me to work with as I’m trying to shoot the games. He maintains the same demeanor whether his team is winning or losing. He convey confidence, at all times, without being arrogant. His team reflects him and that is why I’m not surprised the Tigers won the SWAC but upset Number 1 seed ULL and played Mississippi State tough (3-1). The moment was not too big for JSU because Coach Johnson had his team ready to compete on the big stage.
    I have seen and taped his interviews during the tournaments. He is calm, collected and soft-spoken. He is humble. I don’t know who conducted or interviewed Coach Johnson at the NCAA Regionals, but I have seen many of their people work and most know next to nothing about the HBCU teams they cover or the layers and coaches on those teams.
    As a reference point, Alabama State SI, Duanae Lewis, and I, spent much of Friday evening at the SWAC Tournament, educating the play-by-play announcer about the remaining teams. Here’s a guy. from Indianapolis, spending more time talking about his hopes to work SEC games on the new ESPN-SEC Network, than trying to get up to speed on the teams he would be covering. He also was quick to get to the media feeding area. Don’t get me wrong, he was trying, but he was also unprepared for the task at hand. I can see how some ambitious ESPN interviewer and editor could twist Coach Johnson’s words into a controversy.
    This epsiode exemplifies why, players, coaches, and fans despise the media. This crew took Coach Johnson’s words and twisted it into a firestorm. I’m sure the folks blasting him on social media were Mississippi State fans.
    I have written/and or photographed more than 3,500 sports events during my career. I’ll let my “lying eyes” serve as my basis for determing what kind of man Coach Johnson is not, the twisted hatchet job that ESPN pulled on him.


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